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A Timeline: From ‘Rocket Man’ to Peace Partner and Back

The summit is off between the United States and North Korea. How did we get here?

People watch a television screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump, center, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, at a railway station in Seoul on Nov. 29, 2017. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump, center, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, at a railway station in Seoul on Nov. 29, 2017. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

In a surprise announcement Thursday morning, U.S. President Donald Trump called off his summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, planned for June 12 in Singapore.

Though tensions between the two countries had been easing since the summit was announced in March, they rose again in recent weeks.

Here’s how we got from “Little Rocket Man” to commemorative coins to canceling the summit.

March 9: The White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in a daily briefing that the White House would wait for “concrete and verifiable steps” toward denuclearization in North Korea before the president would accept any invitation to meet. However, later that day, the White House confirmed that Trump had accepted an invitation to meet with Kim and that the two governments were in the midst of planning the meeting. It would mark the first time a sitting U.S. president met with the leader of North Korea since the country’s foundation shortly after World War II.

April 27: In the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim met in the demilitarized zone separating the two countries.

April 31-May 1: Then-CIA Director and soon-to-be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a secret trip to North Korea over Easter. “Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week,” Trump tweeted after the visit became public. “Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!”

May 11: Shortly after welcoming home three U.S. citizens who had been detained in North Korea for more than a year, Trump announced that he would meet with Kim on June 12 in Singapore. “We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

May 15: North Korea abruptly ended communications with South Korea and announced that it might pull out of the summit after South Korea and the United States carried out joint military exercises. “The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities,” North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency said.

May 17: Trump tried to reassure North Korea about comments new National Security Advisor John Bolton made in late April that the U.S. president would opt for the “Libya model” with respect to North Korea’s nuclear program, a reference to Tripoli’s handover of nuclear weapons in 2003. Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi was violently ousted from power in 2011, making the comparison unacceptable to Kim.but ended up reinforcing the message. “The Libya model isn’t the model that we have at all when we’re thinking of North Korea,” Trump said. “In Libya, we decimated that country. That country was decimated. … That model would take place if we don’t make a deal.”

May 21: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence then waded into the verbal fray. “There was some talk about the Libya model last week, and you know, as the president made clear, you know, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” Pence told Fox News. Meanwhile, the White House released its designs for commemorative coins marking the summit.

May 24: North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui in turn threatened the United States with “an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now,” and referred to Pence as a “political dummy” before implying an imminent “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”

Hours later, the White House released a letter from Trump calling off the summit, citing Choe’s retort. “Based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” the letter read. “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.”

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